Based on the short stories by Ian Fleming, Licence to Kill is the story of James Bond going rogue following an attack on his friend Felix Leiter by a drug lord. Directed by John Glen and screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, the film marks a departure of sorts for the Bond franchise by delving into darker territory as Bond aims for vengeance. With Timothy Dalton playing Bond for the second and final time, the film also stars Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Carey Lowell, David Hedison, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Priscilla Barnes, and Robert Brown as M. Licence to Kill is thrilling and intense film from John Glen.
It’s the wedding day of Felix Leiter (David Hedison) as James Bond is the best man where the two decide to help out the DEA capture a drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). The mission turns out to be a success just in time for Leiter to be married to Della (Priscilla Barnes) as things seem to go well. Instead, Sanchez manages to escape with the help of DEA agent Ed Killifer (Everett McGill) who was bribed $2 million as Sanchez sends his henchman Dario (Benicio del Toro) to kidnap Leiter. When Bond learns of Sanchez’s escape, he goes to Leiter’s home to find Della dead and Leiter barely alive from a shark attack. He and Leiter’s friend Sharkey (Frank McRae) investigate a secret marine lab run by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) where Bond confronts Killifer and kills him.
Bond’s activities gets the attention of the DEA and M who wants Bond to stop going after Sanchez only for Bond to resign and go rogue. With Sharkey’s help, Bond boards Krest’s boat to learn of a drug deal that is happening where Bond causes problems by foiling the deal and stealing five million dollars. After reading Leiter’s secret report, Bond meets a former CIA agent-pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) as they team up to take Sanchez down by traveling to Isthmus with Bouvier pretending to be Bond’s secretary. The two investigate Sanchez’s banks and casino where they learn that Sanchez is making a deal after Bond hears about his from Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto). Bond later gets help from Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who is on holiday, as they plan to do more investigating where Bond attempts to assassinate Sanchez.
Instead, the assassination is foiled by a couple of Hong Kong narcotics agents (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Diana Lee Hsu) and British agent Fallon (Christopher Neame) who wants to send Bond back to Britain. Yet, it is foiled by Sanchez’s men as Bond is taken to Sanchez’s home where he gains Sanchez’s trust by telling him what happened to the Krest deal. After getting help from Q and Bouvier to help frame Krest, Bond is able to infiltrate Sanchez’s secret base to find out how Sanchez is exporting the drugs to his rich customers. Realizing what Sanchez is going to do and profit from the drug sale, Bond has to stop him from causing trouble as he hopes to get his revenge.
The film is just simply about James Bond seeking vengeance for what happened to his longtime friend Felix Leiter by going after a drug lord as he’s forced to go rogue with very few resources. It’s a different take on the Bond formula where it’s all driven by vengeance as Bond forgoes all of his duties to his government in favor of seeking justice for his friend. Even as he has to break some rules in order to go after this ambitious drug lord that simply just wants to have a lot of money and create a powerful drug trade among international dealers. Bond would realize that things are more complicated than his vendetta when various other authorities are trying to go after Sanchez.
The screenplay’s approach to creating something different with the usual schematics of a Bond film allows the story to be more engaging but also reach into dark territory. Notably with its theme on vengeance and loyalty where the latter is often spouted upon by Sanchez. Sanchez is a very interesting villain who is willing to buy his way out of anything while wanting to profit from the drug trade. Yet, he is also ruthless if he feels betrayed and has no qualms about killing anyone. Other characters such as Pam Bouvier and Lupe Lamora are just as interesting for the way they each help Bond take down Sanchez. Notably Bouvier who is first seen talking with Leiter about Sanchez’s capture as she later meets Bond where they help each other out. While Lamora is just this abused girlfriend of Sanchez, she does manage to help Bond out by giving him information and lying for him against Krest and other Sanchez associates.
John Glen’s direction is definitely big in terms of presentation as it begins with this very expansive sequence where Bond and Leiter help the DEA capture Sanchez in the Florida Keys. Even as it would involve helicopters and Bond hooking a small plane onto that helicopter before he and Leiter jump off the helicopter to arrive to the wedding in style. With a lot of the film set in Florida and Mexico, Glen’s direction is also more aggressive in terms of the action as there’s more fights and gun battles that happen where it’s driven by Bond’s vendetta. Glen also balances it with suspense as he allows the audience to take its time to uncover Sanchez’s ideas as well as realize how complicated Bond’s plans for vengeance are. Overall, Glen crafts a very mesmerizing yet exhilarating suspense-action film.
Cinematographer Alec Mills does excellent work with the photography from the colorful shots of the Florida and Mexican exteriors to the dark interiors in Krest marine lab where Bond confronts Killifer. Editor John Grover does terrific work with the editing by creating a straightforward approach to the editing in terms of building up its suspense and flesh out the action sequences. Production designer Peter Lamont, with set decorator Michael Ford and art directors Dennis Bosher and Michael Lamont, does spectacular work with the set pieces ranging from Sanchez’s lavish home to the home base where he runs his drug lab.
Costume designer Jodie Lynn Tillen does superb work with the costumes such as the lavish dresses that Lamora and Bouvier wears to the suits the men wear. Special effects supervisor John Richardson does nice work with the special effects for the film‘s action sequences including the climatic one at Sanchez‘s home base. Sound recorder Edward Tise does wonderful work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of some of the film‘s intimate yet tense moments such as Leiter‘s torture scene. The film’s score by Michael Kamen is very good for its orchestral flourishes to play up the suspense and action as it incorporates many variations of the Bond theme. The soundtrack includes a powerful title track sung by Gladys Knight while Patti LaBelle sings the lush, closing ballad If You Ask Me To.
The casting by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Pedro Armendariz Jr. as the President of Isthmus, Wayne Newton as Sanchez’s middle man Professor Joe Butcher, Don Stroud as Sanchez’s henchman Colonel Heller, Anthony Starke as Sanchez’s financial advisor Truman-Lodge, Grand L. Bush as the DEA agent Hawkins, Frank McRae as Leiter’s friend Sharkey, Christopher Neame as British agent Fallon, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Diana Lee Hsu as undercover Hong Kong narcotic agents, and Priscilla Barnes as Leiter’s bride Della. In their last appearances as Bond regulars, Robert Brown is excellent as M while Caroline Bliss is good as Miss Moneypenny.
Anthony Zerbe is terrific as the slimy Milton Krest while Everett McGill is quite good as the DEA agent Killifer who sold Leiter out for money. In one of his early film roles, Benicio del Toro is great as the very devious Dario who is ruthless in his duties for Sanchez. David Hedison is wonderful as Bond’s longtime friend Felix Leiter while Desmond Llewelyn is superb in his role as the gadgets inventor Q who helps Bond out. Talisa Soto gives a very fine performance as Lupe Lamora who helps Bond out in giving him information while hoping that Sanchez will be stopped. Carey Lowell is brilliant as the ex-CIA agent Pam Bouvier who helps Bond out as she deals with her feelings for Bond as well as trying to ensure that things get done.
Robert Davi is fantastic as the villainous Franz Sanchez by bringing a dark sense of charm to his character as well as a brutality to the way he gets rid of his enemies and those who betrayed him. Finally, there’s Timothy Dalton in a marvelous performance as James Bond. Dalton brings a real sense of brooding intensity to a man seeking vengeance for his friend as he’s willing to be more visceral in his pursuits while trying to maintain his professionalism as a secret agent. It’s a very complex performance from Dalton as he gives Bond a dark edge that is very captivating to watch as it’s really one of the best portrayals of James Bond.
Licence to Kill is a phenomenal film from John Glen that features an outstanding performance from Timothy Dalton as James Bond. While it’s different film of sorts in terms of what is expected from Bond as it doesn’t feature a lot of humor. It is still very compelling for the way Bond is portrayed in a revenge angle to show a side of him that isn’t seen very much. Even as he has to go on his own with very little help. In the end, Licence to Kill is a mesmerizing yet fun film from John Glen.
James Bond Files: The EON Films: Dr. No - From Russia with Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty's Secret Service -Diamonds are Forever - Live and Let Die - The Man with the Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View to a Kill - The Living Daylights - GoldenEye - Tomorrow Never Dies - The World is Not Enough - Die Another Day - Casino Royale (2006 film) - Quantum of Solace - Skyfall - SPECTRE
Non-EON Films: Casino Royale (Climax! TV Episode) - Casino Royale (1967 film) - Never Say Never Again
Bond Documentaries: Bond Girls Are Forever - True Bond - Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007
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